Given the number of opportunities given to the Essex man, one would have thought that sooner or later he would have taken advantage but he is yet to cash in. In 83 ODIs for England he has scored 10 half centuries, with a best of 96 – at an average of 30 and a decent strike rate of 75. But it is his inconsistency that frustrates England fans and the sheer size of his talent that so far has gone to waste.
In the side as an all-rounder, he showed signs last summer that his bowling was his stronger suit and the aspect of his game in which he has more confidence. Bowling with real skill against South Africa at The Oval and Lords he was tight and took a couple of wickets – such is his status that the capturing of just one or two scalps is enough to stoke the flames of expectation that he has turned the corner.
However, the other members of England’s Champions Trophy squads that do a similar job to Bopara – Chris Woakes and arguably Tim Bresnan – are the names more likely to appear on the team sheet for the first match, particlarly Woakes’s. So why then did England select him rather than a new man?
I think there are two reasons – firstly and most simply, this is Bopara’s final chance. His talent with the bat and the ball is undeniable but talent can only get you so far in international sport – he needs to string together performances for Essex running into the tournament to earn his place in the starting XI and then perform on that stage. Unfortunately for him, the 6 he scored in the televised YB40 loss to Hampshire last night won’t have silenced too many critics – though I think he bowled fairly well. Secondly, I think that he was selected on the basis of his experience. He has been around for a while, played in 2 World Cups and 1 Champions Trophy. If England were to select a new boy and he got flayed around for 6 overs, people would be pointing fingers. So it was a safe – if not sound – choice.
Who were the other options? Well England could have taken it two ways. Either they could have gone for someone who has done the business for their county for a while and probably deserved a look-in, so someone like Alex Hales, Michael Carberry, or for the all-rounder job, Luke Wright. Or they could have gone totally left-field and brought someone completely new in – so James Vince, who scored an eye-catching 129* in the same match last night, or Graham Napier, again, a man who did well last night and has been on the fringes for a while.
I can understand England’s selection – though I do not think it was a good one. However, there is a lot of talent in the squad that Bopara would do well to circumvent – such as Woakes, who I think will probably start ahead of Bopara. England’s perennial problem is moving on at the right time. Typically they disregard players too early, flinging them back to the domestic scrapheap at the first sign that their form is dipping (Jade Dernbach), or they persevere for too long with deadwood, players who are selected on the basis of one good knock 3 years ago and lots of pretty scores of 35 since (my mind goes back to Michael Vaughan). It is Bopara’s job to ensure that he doesn’t make the selectors look foolish and score a lot of runs.